April 25, 2002 (link)
I got a very interesting note in my comments file for February 26, 2002:
"Song of the Second Moon by Kid Baltan (indeed Dick Raaijmakers) is from 1957!
I look forward to checking out the site, especially the samples of Mr. Tazelaar's electronic music pieces! So the only questions I'm left with are: what's the correct title of the track called "Sonik Re-entry", and when was it written?
Current music: O Yuki Conjugate -- Primitive
April 24, 2002 (link)
"Of The U.S.A.", lyrics by Mrs. R.M. Broecker, sung by Ralph Lowe.
One of my favorite song-poem performers, "the inimitably smooth Ralph Lowe" is the voice behind such classics as "Munchikins" and "Believe In God Until You Die", the latter of which features the great Ralph Lowe portamento --
We open with a martial, rum-pum-pum-pum snare drum, while the piano and bass play a C pedal point, with a pensive, dotted rhythm that's vaguely reminiscent of (a 4/4 version of) the beginning of Miles' "Tout De Suite". The title gives us some hint of what to expect, but the topic of the song is only revealed to us by degrees, starting with Lowe's spoken-word intro (didn't I tell you they all have spoken-word intros or interludes?):
We all know we must have a president, this is true
Okay, I can agree with the first part of that. But meeting his detractors with "steadfast loyalty"? Loyalty to whom, exactly?
He will be faced with many problems, wherever the long road goes
Well, evidently not more than anyone knows, since you're telling us about it...
He was chosen to be President by a strange turn of the day.
Wait a minute. This song isn't about...?
So let's say, "Thank you, Mr. President, we like you anyway."
"We like you anyway"? Damning with faint praise!
And now we turn the corner into a rollicking 12/8 in F, over which Ralph Lowe exuberantly calls us to arms, finally revealing the true subject of this song:
Jerry Ford's the leader of the U.S.A.!
"Oh, wait a minute, it is!" A rah-rah song about Jerry Ford -- I can't imagine there were too many of those! I wonder if anyone did one for Mondale?
There's a Senate and a House, plus a Congressman,
"Plus a Congressman"? Isn't the latter, by definition, a subset of...
Jerry Ford is the president of this nation
"The bad things"? Like tooth decay, potholes, and Dutch elm blight?
Jerry Ford's the right man for this land
Uh-oh, unintentional homoerotic implication alert. What is it about Ralph Lowe? Just about everything he sings seems to have at least one of them.
There's dissension in the land, trouble from abroad
Homoerotic implication number two. "Ralph Lowe: a rod in every song!"
Jerry Ford's a man without a thing to hide
Two things with which his predecessor had a certain amount of difficulty, I'm told.
He's doing all we can, and tries to do much more
Someone's been listening to "Yellow Submarine" too much. ("Every one of us, has all we need...")
A good guy is he, that's president Mr. Ford!
And now the rousing final chorus:
Jerry Ford's the president of the U.S.A!
So you want us to "get behind" Jerry Ford and go "all the way" with him...yep, unintentional homoerotic implication number three.
Jerry Ford's the president of the U.S.A!
Doesn't it just make you want to join in? Follow the bouncing ball!
(Don't see the bouncing ball? Click here.)
And so the chorus repeats until the song fades out.
Current music: Ralph Lowe -- "One Little Son, Then Another" (Joseph Secor)
What an asshole this guy is. A couple excerpts:
But the law has created a chilling effect, according to a number of critics. Eric Eldred, one of the online publishers contesting the Bono Act, says he was forced to remove works from his Web site because he wasn't sure about whether they were covered by copyright and because the Bono Act increased the penalty for infringement to five years in jail or a $500,000 fine.
Translation: "Only infringers/pirates would oppose this law." And of course, a $500,000 fine and five years in jail would be a totally just penalty for someone who (for instance) makes an electronic edition of a book available a few months before it's out of copyright. What a schmuck!
Putting aside the possible legal dangers of a broad Court decision, how do you think an Eldred victory in the Supreme Court would affect the world of ideas? What are the larger cultural dangers?
Uh, yeah. That's why Disney -- very likely the main force behind the Sonny Bono copyright extension act -- did Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and a billion other movies based on public domain works!
The irony is that this guy's central argument -- that the Supreme Court would be overstepping its bounds by declaring the law unconstitutional -- is actually an interesting one, and may well make a formidable case (though I'm not qualified to guess how well it'll stand up). So why couldn't he just state his case on that point, rather than act as yet another apologist for corporate interests, using this kind of self-serving rhetoric to divert attention from the fact that, at root, the main intent of Disney et al. is to keep Mickey Mouse out of the public domain?
Current music: Ustad Vilayat Khan and Akram Khan -- Raga Bhankar
April 23, 2002 (link)
By the way, I saw an absolutely wonderful tennis match this weekend, that being Patty Schnyder's methodical demolition of Jennifer Capriati in the semifinals of the Family Circle Cup. I'm so used to watching hardcourt tennis that I forget how nice a well-played claycourt match can be, particularly one on such a high level where the number of unforced errors is fairly low. I remember seeing a match with Schnyder a year or two ago and thinking very little of her, but that was probably at the height of her involvement with her former coach/boyfriend/faith healer, who reportedly had her on an all-orange-juice diet or something like that. In this match she was just brilliant, constantly changing her shot selection, varying the pace, and repeatedly hitting balls that just caught the lines -- basically, systematically picking Capriati's game apart, and making her look painfully one-dimensional.
By the way, thanks to Tashlan and Badger for favorably mentioning my Indian glitch story on their sites. Kind words -- and comments! -- are always appreciated.
Current music: Syd Barrett -- Have You Got It Yet? (Vol. 2)
Attacking the notion of a "canon" has become a popular activity -- not to mention an easy way for people to grind their particular axes without fear of critical interrogation. And throughout history there have indeed been problems with an overly hierarchical view of aesthetics and the arts -- it'd be foolish to think otherwise. But I think that one of the things that gets lost in these attacks is the role that canons play in people's quest to see the history of music as an intelligible narrative, in which artists' works are reactions to and reflections of the works that came before them. (If those reactions were fully paraphrasable into prose, then there would be no difference between musicmaking and music criticism -- but they're not.) Sometimes I think the question of whether, at root, one sees music as fundamentally intelligible may well be the key question, or most fundamental question, in determining one's aesthetic philosophy.
One could even go further, and replace music with "the world", and remove the word "aesthetic". Really, isn't that the argument at the root of it all -- whether the world can be understood, or whether it's opaque to human understanding? Nothing new, of course, but if nothing else it needs to be emphasized that the former half of that equation is not akin to allying oneself with some rigidly deterministic Newtonian standpoint.
Anyway, my above argument hints at turning the role of a canon into a purely historical one which trades in the currency of influence, but that's not really the tack I mean to take, though that's part of the equation. A work is also an articulate act of aesthetic communication -- would someone like Ives be any less significant if his music were only being discovered now? (But that's not the right question to ask, or at least isn't the right way to ask it.) We use a variety of tools and languages -- prose, music notation, MIDI -- to describe that which is being communicated, and none of them are likely to be a complete description of that thing. That doesn't make it a figment, nor is it arbitrary. (It doesn't discredit the tools, either.) When people talk about a form of music being "watered down" when it's combined with a more commercial form of music, isn't it possible that what they hear is an aesthetic idea that's being rendered inarticulate by combination with incompatible means of expression? Yet so many people will assume that the complaint is motivated by some sort of jockeying for social status, and discount the possibility that the complainant is hearing something real.
I have a friend who, when confronted with people singing the praises of willful avoidance of technical knowledge about music, likes to remind them that they're basically quoting an old argument of Aristotle's, who wrote something to the effect that "no gentleman should ever learn to play an instrument -- that's for slaves". Amusing how an argument that superficially would seem to be so populist turns out to be so rooted in aristocracy.
Current music: Talk Talk -- Laughing Stock (I've never heard this album before; listening to it for the first time, and thinking about its reputed influence on Slowdive's Pygmalion is what got me thinking about this whole topic.)
April 20, 2002 (link)
Say, where the hell is my Chick Magnet 225 CD, anyway?
Okay, count me in: Tom's post on the Wildbunch's "Danger! High Voltage!" got me curious enough to track it down, and I have to admit, yes, I rather like it. Part of me wishes it had a little more funk -- both the bassline and the power-chord guitar seem a little leaden to me -- but I suspect it might not work if it did. But in any event, the demented, androgynous vocals -- e.g. the higher voice, who Tom says is Jack White of the White Stripes -- totally make this song; they remind me a little bit of Jeremy's vocals on the original version of "Heist" by Chick Magnet 225, which also had the glam low voice vs. deranged high voice thing going on. I wouldn't mind at all if this were the kind of thing I heard when I turned the radio on. It's certainly got at least one of the qualities a potential hit needs to have: when I'm done playing it, I want to play it again!
By the way, I've had a report that the comment boxes aren't working for some visitors. If you try to leave a comment, and it doesn't work or won't let you leave one, please drop me a line and let me know, so I can figure out what's amiss.
Current music: The Wildbunch -- "Danger! High Voltage!"
April 18, 2002 (link)
"Okay, is this going to be part 2?"
"It's going to be part 9. What difference does it make, motherfucker?"
Current music: Miles Davis -- "Corrado" (from the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions)
April 17, 2002 (link)
So today, for her birthday, my girlfriend and I went out to dinner at one of Philadelphia's many fine Indian restaurants. (This one's particularly good, by the way -- email me if you want the name and address. Rumor has it that when Black Sabbath is in town, Tony Iommi likes to eat there.) As we waited for our food, the ceiling began to shake and reverberate from what I presume was a dance rehearsal of some kind on the next floor up. Having been jolted into aural awareness by the pounding feet above us, I also noticed that there wasn't any music playing in the restaurant, which is a little unusual; just about every Indian restaurant I've ever been to plays either Indian classical music (which is my preference) or a nonstop stream of fusion/Bollywood stuff.
Not too long after that, one of the restaurant staff put on an Indian classical CD. It opened with a solo instrument -- maybe a veena? I'm not sure -- that had a hard time at first competing with the dancers, until finally they seemed to calm down (and eventually stopped entirely, I think). By that time we had started eating, and I half-tuned out the music while I downed delicious meat samosas and fried poori bread. I remember noticing that the track had gone on for a while without any tabla, which got me to thinking about concerts of Indian music I'd seen -- all of which included tabla -- and how good it would always feel once the tabla came in, and how I tend to prefer recordings with tabla on them to those without (which is part of why the tabla-less Balachander disc I mentioned below, on the 9th, didn't really get me too excited). A couple minutes after noticing that, the tabla did come in, and I had a train of thought that there must be some maxim in Hindi out there to the effect of "Sooner or later, the tabla always comes in."
We got to talking and/or eating, and didn't really notice the music for a while. Then something about it jumped out at me, and I broke off in mid-sentence, no doubt looking distracted; the track, which had been fairly placid, had suddenly begun to take off, with rhythmic variations and breaks and all kinds of flashy stuff that I tend to like. I made some comment to the effect of huh-this-is-pretty-cool, started trying to figure out the tala by tapping my fingers, and offered up a couple silly pronouncements about Indian classical music -- something like "Indian rhythms are so...well, it's not really that they're complex, which is what I was going to say, so much as that they're..." (listens to track, which is defying my attempts to count it out) "Well, no, I guess it is complex, but the units of which it's made are relatively simple, they're just combined in these extremely long series called talas..."
And then, as if to prove that I didn't know what I was talking about, the music started doing more and more complicated rhythmic change-ups, some of which included fractions of a beat. It was beginning to get farther and farther afield from any Indian classical I'd ever heard, and I found myself getting very curious about what this was, and who was playing it. The veena was hovering doggedly about the same one or two notes, pounding at them relentlessly, while the tabla nailed all kinds of different rhythmic breaks, some of which completely eluded my counting skills -- and not to toot my own horn, but I'm a pretty damn good counter! Quarter-beats, thirds of a beat, things I couldn't even come close to counting out that you'd only expect to see in a Boulez (or Bo Nilsson?) piece -- and every time, the musicians came out of the break perfectly in sync, without the slightest hint of sloppiness. I felt totally humbled: clearly, in this music, there was a rhythmic vocabulary of incredible complexity that was completely systematized (how else could they hit those unison breaks so perfectly?), and yet of a nature that proved completely elusive to me. I began to wish that I'd put more effort into my classes with Professor M.G. -- he sure knew about this stuff, and I had to admit that his criticisms of Western rhythmic notation and conceptions seemed more pertinent than ever. This section of the piece had an almost monomaniacal (there's that word again!) intensity that was absolutely flooring me -- I'd never heard an approach anything like it, and after two or three minutes of it I was practically desperate to find out what this recording was, and by whom.
But then three minutes turned to four...and four to five...and five to six.
The rhythmic breaks became more and more unpredictable, and my girlfriend and I started laughing, incredulous that they could've stayed on this one section for so long.
Six minutes turned to seven...
It sounded almost like someone had programmed a sampler with a bunch of Indian classical soundfiles and told it to splice them together at random, using one or two particular motifs -- an almost whining veena line, a flourish on the tabla -- as touchstones to which the output should periodically return.
Seven to eight...
Over and over again, that one veena line, those unpredictable and yet repetitive tabla patterns. "What's going on?" we asked each other. I looked around -- no one else seemed to notice anything was unusual: maybe we were closer to the speakers than the rest of them? The place was more than two-thirds empty, and the kitchen staff was playing music too, although I could only hear it when I walked by the counter, to the restrooms.
Eight to nine...nine to ten...
And then, by degrees -- "No, it couldn't be...could it?...no, it can't...but wait...is it...?" -- it seemed to dawn on both of us at once:
The fucking CD was skipping.
All of that rhythmic wildness, all of those unexpected shifts and incredible breaks -- all of that was a figment, the output of a scratched disc or a dirty lens. And no one but us seemed to notice! I mean, it had been bizarrely plausible at first, but by that point it was obvious -- it sounded like, I don't know, Ravi Shankar meets Mille Plateaux? (Or Tigerbeat6? I'm no glitch connoisseur.) Not even our waiter seemed to notice -- I asked him about the music, saying I'd "never heard anything like it" (I didn't have the courage to be direct -- I still wasn't quite sure that it was skipping, and wasn't until just before we left, when the clicks and skips became bludgeoningly apparent). But he just smiled, seeming only to half-understand (if that), said something like "The music, you like it?" and walked off to print out my credit card slip. And all the while, not the slightest hint of a reaction from anyone else in the room, even the other staff members! I scanned the room three, four, five times, but no one even budged, no one cast quizzical glances at the speakers or towards the staff: nothing.
So that's my story for the day; I didn't feel like I had much of anything to say earlier and wasn't expecting to post today, but that pretty much dropped into my lap. Perhaps I've witnessed the birth of a new genre -- glitch-raga? (Yecch.) -- but I suspect it's already been done. It does make for an interesting twist, though, particularly since the disc got a treatment, at the hands of a skipping CD player, that's not unlike the treatment that jazz drummers and drum breaks have gotten at the hands of wild 'n crazy breakbeat/glitch folks -- i.e. turning relatively straightforward source material into rapid-fire, crackling, pirouetting cascades of beats.
By the way, I'm not the only one who was disappointed by the ending of Rain. (The Philadelphia Citypaper also didn't like it, but then they didn't like the rest of the movie either.) Looks like it may be seeing wider release, which despite its flaws I'm glad to see happening.
Current music: Led Zeppelin - "The Rain Song" when I started this entry; later, The Staple Singers - "Why Am I Treated So Bad?"; after that, Bedhead - "Dark Ages", live at Bennington; and now "Static" from Godspeed You Black Emperor's Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, which I've never heard and which, rather to my surprise, I'm enjoying.
April 16, 2002 (link)
And now, the sixth (!) entry in my Deep Chill Network review project:
Current music: Deep Chill Network - various tracks
April 15, 2002 (link)
"Strip Mining Blues", by Millard Branam, sung by Kay Weaver.
12-bar blues in F, piano and electric bass playing a two-bar intro out front. Kay immediately comes in with her spoken-word intro, her voice authoritative and clearly disapproving:
"You may be an old strip miner, and you may drive your big limousine..."
Right away we know this is, um, no ordinary blues. Is it the voice? The bizarrely incongruous, pricelessly earnest lyrics? Both, really.
"Now you might have lots of money. Yeah, you might have everything."
"When you go into these mountains, destroying everything -- let me tell you mister, we're gonna stop this thing."
Hmmmmm, rhyming "thing" with..."thing"? Couldn't Mr. Branam have ventured a "sing", or "ring", or "sling"? The bass player isn't very on top of things, by the way.
"You may live in your mansion, you may drive your big Cadillac."
This song is making strip mining sound like a pretty attractive career choice!
"You're taking everything from these mountains and not putting anything back."
It becomes obvious right about here that Kay Weaver -- whose voice becomes slightly petulant at the end of that last line -- is using the well-known song-poem device of turning large patches of lyrics into spoken-word sections, which you can blast through about twice as fast as lyrics set to music would take (and with about half as much effort). I suspect that your average song-poem customer would generally be less than pleased by this, since the idea was, after all, to set their words to a melody; in the "Strip-Mining Blues", we actually get only one chorus of sung vocals, which amounts to a bit of a rip-off!
"You may have your bulldozers, and you may have your big machines...let me tell you something, you don't have everything."
Well, if I were a strip miner, my little world would be falling apart right about now.
"Yeah, you may have your bulldozers. You may have your big machines."
(Didn't we just go over that?)
"You may be a strip miner, but that don't mean a thing. You may live in a city and drive your big limousine."
Mr. Branam may be overusing the subjunctive just a bit. Whatever happened to "are"?
"But let me tell you something. Friends -- friends beat everything."
I wonder if anyone actually ever played this song for a strip miner. I can't help but imagining the author of this song bringing this disc into a boardroom full of mining company executives, honestly believing that if they only knew that friends beat everything they'd see the error of their ways. And where did the author get the idea that people with mansions and limousines don't have friends? Most people who would be friends with someone because they're rich aren't likely to be given pause by the fact that the person in question is a strip miner. Of course, those aren't real friends, as my girlfriend points out, but still, the average mining company exec, even if he/she was willing to take this song seriously, would be confused by the assertion that they don't have any friends -- "What are you talking about? I have lots of friends." Besides, aren't strip miners friends with each other? Surely they have strip miner parties?
As we reach this line, Kay Weaver's spoken-word intro suddenly stops -- I guess she just ran out of words, which will happen when you cram three verses worth of lyrics into one and a half choruses. Around bar nine, the bass and piano seem to be a bit confused by this, but end up on the same chord within a few moments, hitting the turnaround and setting up Kay's re-entrance, now singing, at first casually:
"When you're stripping..."
Oh, stripping mountains! And now, in full voice, like overly-sweet syrup:
"You tear up my hea-a-a-a-rt"
Add another chapter to the "dangers of the well-meaning, socially-conscious songwriter" songbook.
"Just go on with your stripping, and leave me alone"
Suddenly an acoustic guitar becomes audible, comping with the rest of the band. Was someone in the room -- Kay Weaver? -- suddenly moved to pick up his/her guitar and join in? Or did the mixing engineers suddenly realize the track was muted when they were mixing the song down, and only bring it up nearly three-quarters of the way through the song?
"Got the strip mining blues, got the strip mining blues"
Yes -- listen to that A over the B-flat 7th chord -- no blue notes here! That's excruciating!
"I go right on a-singing, the strip, strip mining blues!"
Current music: surely you can guess.
April 14, 2002 (link)
At the moment my email appears to be down. (Update, April 15, 2002: it's working again.) I'm hoping this situation will correct itself soon; not only is my masstransfer.net address not working, but my old college address seems to have finally been deactivated too -- within just a couple days of each other, which is very inconvenient. For the moment, if you need to email me, you can reach me at [redacted] (you'll need to type that out -- address obfuscated to prevent email harvesting, etc., etc.).
Two neat transitions in iTunes random play yesterday: first, going from Satie's "De Podophthalma" from the Embryons Desséchés -- with its huge, overblown ending of repeated fortissimo F major chords -- to the Beatles' "Ob-La-Di", which opens up with an F major chord played on tack piano, knitting it together with the ending of the Satie piece and making the whole thing sound like one big intro (and prolongation of the dominant) to "Ob-La-Di", the verse of which is in B-flat major (the new tonic). V - I, basically, but it was neat, even though I don't much like "Ob-La-Di".
Then later, the Doors' "Not to Touch the Earth", which sounded remarkably hackneyed (even though when I was nine or ten I thought it was terribly weird and badass), followed up by Bent Leg Fatima's "Crow, Cat and Snake", which I didn't recognize at first, leaving me thinking, Huh, another Doors song? Is this something I don't recognize, maybe from Morrison Hotel? No, wait, that's not the Doors...sounds like early Pink Floyd...what is this? Oh, wait, it's that Bent Leg Fatima track! So much stuff is described as being like 1960s music -- Elephant 6, for instance, or the Asteroid #4 -- but I so seldom hear music that actually sounds like the real thing (as opposed to a pastiche-collection of affectations) that when I do, I'm always surprised. The Bent Leg Fatima track isn't perfect, but it does evoke that sound quite well.
My neighbors built a wall of cinder blocks around their house -- why, I don't know. A couple days ago they started knocking it down, and as each cinder block hit the ground it made a surprisingly resonant thud -- one which I couldn't track down at first, leaving me trying to figure out what or who was whumping on my house until I realized it was coming from next door. I think they're doing it again today.
Satie's "Son binocle", from Les Trois Valses distinguées du précieux dégouté, is gorgeous. So is the big climactic sequence of chords from the Sarabande No. 3 which, if you respell all the double-flats and so forth, is basically C-sharp minor, E9, A, D9, C-sharp minor.
Current music: Erik Satie - Sarabande No. 1 from Piano Works (Varsano/Entremont)
April 13, 2002 (link)
Because I don't generally touch caffeine, when I do indulge it tends to hit me pretty hard -- once, in my sophomore year of college, I ended up staying up until 7 in the morning fueled by nothing more than the better part of a half-gallon of chocolate ice cream. Last night, I did something similar -- finishing most of a pint of Haagen-Dazs chocolate gelato -- and though it didn't keep me up all night, I kept waking up with a start from nightmares about Jandek songs...
Another example of the thing I was talking about yesterday: the sad Mac music, especially older versions of it. There's a page full of them here; listen especially to the Classic II sound, although I could've sworn there was one decidedly creepier than that.
Jumping back to Jandek, Aquarius Records has a bunch of RealAudio files from several of his albums, which I listened to over headphones last night. What's there is much more...intriguing? compelling?...than the stuff I'd heard before like "They Told Me I Was A Fool". I'm wary of exploring much further though, as, from last night's experience, I have to wonder whether listening to this music is really good for me -- in it I hear the first inklings of something deeply disturbing and oppressive. Perhaps there is indeed something to it after all, but if so, it's something that may be hazardous to one's sense of well-being.
April 12, 2002 (link)
Before I got up this morning, I had a dream that I was in my old apartment, watching some sort of awards ceremony or big outdoor concert (the Grammies, Live Aid, etc.) on TV. Someone who looked like a cross between Beck and Joey Lawrence emerged onto the (extremely tall, multi-tiered) stage with an acoustic guitar and, much to my surprise, began to play "Psychic Cigarette". For the first verse or two his microphone didn't seem to be quite working, so you could only hear his vocals through his guitar mic, but for the chorus ("All the channels of the trade") the rest of the band came in, and it was good. I scrambled for the phone to try to call J., who I knew would appreciate this and want to see it, but despite the fact that they grafted on an extended outro -- during which the Beck/JL guy did some fairly interesting, fragmentary guitar hits -- I couldn't find both the phone and his number in time to call him before the song ended.
A long time ago, I was playing with my sister's Radio Shack synthesizer, ekeing out the last dregs of what remained in its batteries. Suddenly, it gave up the ghost completely, but just before it did, it inexplicably played two poco staccato quarter notes -- C, D-flat -- and then refused to play anymore. For some reason, I found that very chilling -- I thought to myself, this is a way the world could end: just two notes, then everything everywhere goes dark in less than a second, with no explanation whatsoever, no time to even look around. ("No safety or surprise", you might say.) And the choice of notes couldn't have been more appropriate; that ascending half-step felt like the ending of endings -- an infinite and infinitely sinister cadence.
I've tried numerous times, largely in vain, to describe that quality; it's almost as though the ominous is most ominous when depicted using innocuous forms. For instance, as a child I remember looking, in some science encyclopedia we used to have around the house, at pictures of the probable consequences of a nuclear blast. There were illustrations of various environments, defined by their distance from ground zero, in which figures were shown protecting themselves in various ways ("duck and cover") from the effects of the blast. These figures were depicted in a manner reminiscent of the signs on public restrooms and school crossing signs -- round heads, rounded arms and legs, no detail -- and somehow I found that far more disturbing than drawings of "real" people would have been.
There's something of that quality in Seefeel's "Plainsong", although in a different form. Instead of cadencing once, it cadences over and over again, monomaniacally -- hardly straying from the tonic and yet perpetually, obsessively cycling back to it. There's something more than a little mad about it -- certainly it's always struck me as far more nuts than most of the music that normally gets associated with madness. The friend who introduced me to Seefeel told me that he used to get high on E with his friends and dance around all night to the Pure/Impure EP; I can definitely see it, though I keep vacillating on whether I think he saw the same monomania in the song that I do -- sometimes I doubt he did, and other times it seems ridiculous to think he didn't. Whatever it is, Seefeel has it.
Current music: Seefeel - "Plainsong"
April 11, 2002 (link)
I've listened to the first seventeen of 45 tracks available for listening on Vidna Obmana's MP3.com page, and so far, not a one of them has grabbed me at all. I've seen his name around quite a bit on various pages; from the MP3s I've heard on this page, his work seems to be in a vein (of ambient music) that's of little or no interest to me -- much too self-consciously "ethereal", trebly, digital-sounding, and New Age-y. Fair enough -- there's plenty out there that is of interest to me; as long as I don't have to part with any of my limited funds, I'm happy to give a listen to stuff like this. (Which, at that, is one of the ways in which a place like MP3.com can be very useful, its suspect business practices notwithstanding.)
Current music: Vidna Obmana - various tracks
April 10, 2002 (link)
Maybe it's just me, but the boys' voices at about 11:41 in Stockhausen's Gesang der Jünglinge sound uncannily like they're saying something that, if it were a Rage Against the Machine song, would probably be followed up by "I won't do whatcha tell me". The first time I heard it, back in 1995 or so, I burst out laughing. I'm sure the resemblance is unintentional, but...
Current music: Karlheinz Stockhausen - Gesang der Jünglinge
April 9, 2002 (link)
And now for the fifth entry in my Deep Chill Network review project. This was originally supposed to go up yesterday, but I inadvertently left my (handwritten) notes at home...
Three down, seven to go!
By the way, as I fell asleep this afternoon (10 minute nap), I found the phrase "Iron Manatee For Two" running through my head. Make of that what you will...
Current music: Vidwan S. Balachander - Raga Malahari: Veena I
April 7, 2002 (link)
Someone got here searching for the chords to "Roygbiv". Reckoning two beats per chord, I think they're something like F#7sus4, F#7sus4, A7sus4, D, A, G/A (G/D the second time), Bm9, Bm9, but there's plenty of room for argument there. The piano part is actually relatively simple -- A, B, G, D, A, G, D, D -- but becomes harmonically complex thanks to what's going on around it, all of which shades it in a totally different way. It's actually a hell of well-put-together song, when you think about it; I'm glad this "question" gave me the pretext to give it a couple listens. I'm not as much of a Boards of Canada fan as I used to think I was going to be, but I still have a great deal of respect for the intelligence -- musical and otherwise -- with which they approach their work.
Current music: Oregon - Distant Hills
April 6, 2002 (link)
Last night I saw the New Zealand movie Rain, featured as part of this year's Philadelphia Film Festival. If you have any plans to see it, be warned that I'll mention a few spoilers below, though I should add that it's not really a movie "about" plot -- the review I read in the Philadelphia Weekly pretty much gave everything away, and I don't think I missed out on much by reading it. Actually, I probably wouldn't even have known it was playing (let alone gone to see it) if I hadn't read the review, which was extremely positive.
Overall I thought it was a very appealing film, with strong performances, gorgeous cinematography and a courageous approach to plot and pacing -- but also found that it suffered from one or two weak scenes, an unconvincing performance by the protagonist's mother, and above all, a disappointing ending which felt far too pat and contrived. The central character is a 12-year-old girl, Janey, whose situation is almost impossible to describe without lapsing into cliché -- basically, her parents are alcoholics, her little brother is insufferably but genuinely cute, and Janey herself is just "coming into bloom", as it were, and is beginning to explore the ways in which her sexuality can give her power over the people around her. The part is played just about perfectly by Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki, who manages to convey just the right mix of sensuality, pubescent narcissism, and awkwardness -- indeed, she makes Dominique Swain (Lolita) seem like quite the hack by comparison. Her mother meets Cady (played well by Marton Csokas, who bears a strong resemblance to Russell Crowe), a roguish fellow who lives in a boat and likes to take pictures, and the two of them become involved. Janey accidentally witnesses them in the act on more than one occasion, unbeknownst to them, and this sets off a complex series of interactions and tensions between Janey, her mother, her father, and Cady; most immediately, Janey openly becomes quite hostile to her mother, both for the infidelity and for her more-or-less constant drinking. Unfortunately, Sarah Peirse's portrayal of Kate, the mother, struck me as very one-note, and failed to present a character who would've made a convincing romantic interest for the younger and relatively handsome Cady. This didn't undermine the movie terribly much, but frequently made her character's motivation seem far too opaque -- she often seemed like little more than a collection of theatrical gestures and quasi-elegances, in the midst of which she would mysteriously bake a cake.
On the other hand, she did manage to convey something of the self-defeating, avoidant behavior characteristic of so many alcoholics. This is one of the strongest aspects of the movie -- without resorting to histrionics or caricature, it brilliantly depicts the effects of alcoholism on a family. This isn't beat-your-kids, vomit-on-the-couch alcoholism; Janey's parents simply love to drink and to be drunk, and both of them clearly use alcohol as a means of dealing with conflict or frustration -- or, in the case of Janey's father, the pain of knowing that his wife is cheating on him. Alistair Browning turns in an excellent (and well-directed) performance as Ed, Janey's father; though he has perhaps the fewest lines of any of the movie's major characters, he manages to convey a nuanced and complex range of emotions without saying a word. He shows Ed to be a kind, sensitive and gentle man, but also one with a bit of a weak character -- unable to confront his wife or Cady about their infidelity, his initial reaction is to engage in various forms of denial, whether it's anesthetizing himself with alcohol or otherwise running away from the problem. I particularly remember the scene where he first realizes that his wife is interested in Cady -- as I recall, she leans towards him for a kiss, only to shy away again and move towards Cady. It's obvious that he loves her deeply, and is bewildered and wounded by her betrayal; the pain in his eyes is quite moving.
Another very strong point of the movie is the evenhanded way it treats its characters, neither letting them off the hook, nor demonizing them, nor flattening them into caricature or sainthood. If it's true -- and I believe it is -- that there is a legitimate complaint about the lack of nuance and depth in the portrayal of women by mainstream male directors, then I think it's also equally true that many films directed by women (as Rain is), or centered around female characters or "women's issues", tend to suffer from the opposite problem: depending on the movie's ideology, the men are knights, rapists, capitalists, cowboys, cads, chauvinist pigs, and so forth. Thankfully, Rain suffers from nothing of the sort; it doesn't, for instance, feel the need to turn Ed into a dolt or a brute in order to justify Kate's infidelity, as so many movies do. Spoiler alert: Janey eventually decides to essentially seduce Cady -- perhaps as a calculated way of dealing with the entire situation, or out of an adolescent crush, or out of sheer curiosity, or some combination thereof. It would be very easy for the movie to cast him as a rotter, just as it would have earlier when he accepts Kate's romantic overtures. But it didn't then, and it doesn't when Janey seduces him, either; he behaves neither as a saint nor as a predator, but in an entirely human way. (True, he willingly participated in an infidelity, and is able to look the cuckolded husband in the eye when they meet -- but he doesn't seem to regard Kate as a conquest or anything like that, either. His sexuality is not depicted as an expression of dominance, but simply of desire.)
Unfortunately, when Janey does sleep with him, the movie gives in to exactly the thing it needed to resist: predictably, something horrible immediately happens as a semi-direct consequence of their liaison, and a movie which had been so honest and non-judgmental up to that point suddenly morphs into a morality play. Since an innocent suffers on account of Janey's actions, she's left with a burden of guilt that can never be extirpated -- if she had suffered directly, then her guilt could be redeemed through her punishment. After an hour of lucid and courageous filmmaking, to have the director suddenly invoke the "young girl having sex = fall from grace" clause just seems terribly heavy-handed. It comes dangerously close to lapsing into parody at one point: as she stumbles through the forest, freaked out and confused after her first sexual experience (presumably the loss of her virginity -- although even that seems a bit inconsistent with the character of Cady, who neither seems stupid enough nor enough of a cad to take the virginity of a 12-year-old), the soundtrack gives us some mawkish piece of work with lyrics that sound like leftovers from the Guess Who's "Undun" -- "oh no, what has she done, she's gone too far, it was a mistake", that sort of thing. It feels dishonest and manipulative, and turns the movie's lead character -- who is otherwise vivid and utterly believable -- into little more than a metaphor. (Why would a movie like this need to crib from the playbook of slasher movies -- that most conservative of genres in which every sex act is immediately, inevitably followed by an untimely death?) Perhaps it would have been more effective if it had been a genuine surprise, but the movie more than foreshadows the plot point, it practically telegraphs it.
When we went to see this movie, the ushers handed us each a slip of paper with five boxes on it -- Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor -- and asked that we rate the movie and return the slips after we'd seen it. I marked the "Very Good" box, which I think is fair: despite my dissatisfaction with the ending and with Sarah Peirse's performance, I enjoyed Rain very much, and would recommend it. Its strengths certainly dovetail neatly with the things I look for in a movie, and perhaps those people for whom "quiet" and "slow" aren't usually positive adjectives when applied to a movie won't find Rain as appealing as I did. Still, its flaws notwithstanding, I found it to be a fundamentally good movie, full of great (even brilliant) performances, beautiful cinematography, and honest, sensitive direction. It's definitely worth seeing on the big screen if you get the chance -- the colors and landscapes were incredibly rich and detailed, and I suspect that, visually speaking, it'll lose a lot on the small screen.
Current music: Seclusion - Yukigafuru
April 4, 2002 (link)
It was completely predictable -- but still a little embarrassing -- that, after making my "daily update" pronouncement, I would immediately miss a day. I was working on, of all things, a Shooby Taylor transcription ("Stout-Hearted Men", naturally), but got busy with other endeavors and didn't make enough headway to put it up.
Speaking of Shooby Taylor, the more I listen to him, the more I like him. One of the differences between him and typical "outsider art" is that he's actually got real musical talent, unlike most of them. You can certainly sense a musical intelligence in there, albeit a distorted one...and if that really is him accompanying himself on the organ, he does have some keyboard skills, far from polished though they may be. And what he does vocally is hard to do -- a good Shooby Taylor imitation is surprisingly tough to pull off: though it sounds effortless when he does it, those sequences of bizarre syllables are tough to say, let alone to sing at high speed. They're also, of course, what pushes his music well past the point of eccentricity and over the edge into Incorrect Music territory. I still don't understand the force that would make someone think that the likes of "plav" and "shra" are effective scat syllables; it's hard to tell from the music whether his intent is to fit in with the extant jazz tradition, or to lay the foundation for something entirely new.
Regardless, his syllables, his outbursts, his bebop runs punctuated with "peepy poppy peepy poppy" -- all of these things help to create what amounts to a complete and self-consistent soundworld, which in my experience tends to make for the best "outsider music" listening. What I mean by that: the page I linked a few entries back had (in addition to the tracks I mentioned by Y. Bhekhirst and so forth) a bunch of MP3 files of things like junior high school jazz bands. In small doses, that can be amusing, but recordings that are in essence nothing more than conventional music played badly don't tend to sustain my interest for very long, though a few minutes of them can be hilarious: I'm as amused by bad violin playing as anybody, and I've attended more than one concert where I had to practically bury my face in my coat -- or think very dour thoughts -- to keep from falling on the floor in hysterics. But listening to someone like Shooby Taylor (or Wesley Willis, etc.), the phenomenon becomes more one of being drawn into someone else's completely fucked-up, but intelligible, musical universe. Wesley Willis is practically a whole genre unto himself, if an unusually limited one. (Even song-poems, as you listen to more and more of them, begin to manifest certain signifiers -- like the spoken-word interlude or the artifically peppy female background vocals or the Bernie Worrell-ish fake strings -- that begin to make song-poem-ness seem like a unified universe, albeit one whose rules defy both good taste and intuition.)
Anyway, I'm not describing this as well as I'd hoped, but I think my point is relatively clear. I think being unintentionally funny, by the way, is a key part of this equation for me -- which is probably why I haven't been too taken with the stuff I've heard by Jandek. And I've talked before about whether the humor is an expression of contempt, which I don't think it needs to be. For me, listening to Shooby Taylor is like hearing someone take the most extreme and absurd part of my high school jazz band experiences and distill them into something altogether new, in which something that would normally be considered undesirable -- syllables like "lo ku pah" -- becomes a signifier.
April 2, 2002 (link)
Glancing over it now, it looks like, after 25. Rxf7 Kxf7 26. Qd7+ Be7 27. Rf1+, 27...Kg8, followed by Rc6-c7, may in fact draw. In any event, it looks to me like 27...Kg6? was a mistake; after that move, my computer favors White in all of the lines I've checked so far, though it looks like Black can escape mate. So the sacrifice may not be correct after all -- but it sure was fun to play.
Many thanks to Alex, who spotted a couple of nasty typos (which I've now corrected) in the game score I gave below. That's what I get for bashing out an entry while scrambling to catch a train! I had to type in the moves manually because I don't like the way that FICS formats its game scores (or, more accurately, I've been too lazy to investigate the possibility of customizing it to my liking), and in the rush I forgot to double-check my work. Anyway, FICS is a great server, and that's where I play, using the excellent Fixation client for Macintosh. Alex, I'll drop you an email with my handle on FICS -- I'd love to have a few blitz games sometime.
I'm going to start trying to update daily, at least during April. I don't know if it will happen, but I think that kind of structure will do both me and the site good.
Current music: The Residents - Commercial Album
April 1, 2002 (link)
I just played the kind of sacrifice one gets to play but rarely, and at first glance it seems to very possibly be sound (though I haven't analyzed it thoroughly yet):
I had the White pieces. Admittedly, I'm up a piece for a pawn, and probably should win easily, so flashy play is unnecessary...but, since it was a blitz game, how could I resist 25. Rxf7! There followed 25...Kxf7 26. Qd7+ Be7 27. Rf1+ Kg6 28. Qd3+ Kg5 29. h4+ Kxh4
30. Qg3+ Kg5 31. Qe5+ Kxg4 32. Rf4+ Kh3 33. Rf3+ Kg4 34. Rg3+ Kh4 35. Qf4+ Kxh5 36. Qg4 mate -- with 19 seconds left on the clock for me, no less. There are alternatives for Black, of course, and I don't know yet whether White wins in all variations -- I'll have to check it out, and would love to see any readers' analyses if anyone feels so inclined. But what a pleasure to play a move like that!
Current music: John Lennon - Plastic Ono Band
Tom Jones, Henry Fielding
The Once and Future King, T.H. White
The Computer Connection, Alfred Bester
Richard II, Shakespeare